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Putting anaerobic digestion at the heart of Scotland’s circular economy

Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA), sets out the role that AD can play in helping Scotland meet its climate-change and waste targets.

On my occasional forays north of the border, I’m always struck by two things: Scotland’s incredible natural beauty and the sheer determination of its people to play their part in tackling climate change. Scotland closed its last coal-powered station in 2016 and has led the UK in reducing its emissions: it’s now well on target to meet its 2020 target to cut emissions by 42%.

But there’s still lots of work to do: emissions from areas such as heat and transport remain stubbornly high and there’s still enormous scope for reducing emissions from waste. This is where anaerobic digestion (AD) comes in. AD converts crops and organic wastes such as food and drink waste, sewage, and agricultural wastes into renewable heat and power, clean transport fuel, and nutrient-rich natural fertiliser.

The Scottish AD industry is already delivering a huge amount: there are now almost 60 operational AD plants spread across Scotland treating a range of wastes and crops including animal slurries and manures, food waste, grass silage, sugar beet, and various grains and wheats from Scotland’s famous distilleries. At the other end of the process, AD is delivering 530GWh of output in Scotland, enough to power 130,000 homes, and is mitigating around 300,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions each year, equivalent to taking over 60,000 cars off the road.

A thriving Scottish AD industry is therefore vital for the development of a truly circular economy in Scotland. We were pleased to hear just a couple of weeks ago that the Scottish Government will be developing a ‘local energy policy statement’ this year in which it will set out measures it can take to further support AD, and Holyrood has recognised the role that AD plays in reducing emissions from waste, energy, agriculture, and transport and in improving energy and food security. Like any other industry, AD in Scotland needs the right policies and regulations in place to support its continued growth.

What is also needed is innovation in new technologies to improve plant performance and create new value chains. Good practice is also integral to ensure the industry has strong support from government, regulators, and the general public, and we’re looking forward to seeing which AD operator will be the first in Scotland to certify under the AD Certification Scheme, which ADBA has created along with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and other stakeholders to recognise good practice in what is such an important industry for the UK’s green economy.

We’ll be exploring all of the above in much more detail in a few weeks at the ADBA Scottish National Conference 2019, which will bring together the Scottish AD community to drive forward commercial opportunities and support the industry by providing a platform to discuss pressing issues and policy changes. We hope to see you there to discover together how we can put AD at the centre of Scotland’s circular economy.